The name “Conservative” bugs me. The dictionary definition says “favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.” But that misleads as much as it describes. Aren’t Democrats now conservative because they want to preserve their current majority in Congress? Isn’t Raoul Castro a conservative since he wants to keep the Communist Party running Cuba?
But “conservative” as most people mean it does describe my views. I’m in favor of smaller government, focusing on individual freedom and responsibility rather than promoting equality of circumstances. What should this view be called?
I’ve thought of the term “characterism”. This may not work because it is too similar to “characteristic”, but I chose it to assert the value of character. Character is the set of choices that a person makes, the attitudes one takes towards life. Character is what we choose to do with life, how we respond to what we are given. Bad things happen to all kinds of people. Some people collapse and give up. Some people keep on with what they are about. And many people despair for a time, but recover and face life once again.
Many forces in our society insist unhealthily on perfect circumstances. Accusations of racism, sexism or other injustices suggest that the victim can despair. Unless the victimizer is punished, or makes amends, the victim is not expected to get over it. This is good in part. When I am unjust, part of what should drive me to repentance is understanding the suffering I have caused. But it becomes false to take this to the point where a victim of injustice is nothing more than a victim, a person who cannot get over it.
I think there is also a philosophy that good character is a product of good circumstances. Do good to people, give them their rights, and all will be well. This too is partly true, doing well to others frequently encourages them to be better. But I don’t believe the personality is a blank slate, and that bad character only comes because bad things happened to the person. To say a victim can do nothing but wait for recompense before he can get on with his life ignores the great resilience of the human character. We can do good when evil has been done to us, we can get over injustice, and go on to thrive.
The Judeo-Christian world view puts character at the heart of reality. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Before anything else existed, there was God; a person, a character. The secular world view says the universe came first, and through an amazing set of coincidences, we arrived. So in that view, character and personality are secondary, cosmic accidents.
The Judeo-Christian worldview also asserts something very startling about this character at the heart of things. It says that God is good, when there is no force outside of himself that compels him to do be good.
We learn superficial politeness and consideration because of our powerlessness. We can’t make people like us or please us that often, so we learn to be pleasant and offer friendship and consideration so that others will return the favor. But Scripture says at the heart of the world is a being so powerful and resourceful that he could well choose to be spoiled and self-centered, and no one or nothing could resist him. But he has chosen to be good, even exceptionally good. The Christian story adds to this common tradition of powerful goodness, that God became one of us, took on our limitations, and nonetheless retained all excellence in character, even through being persecuted, misunderstood, and finally painfully tortured and killed.